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By Chandrama Anderson

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About this blog: I am a LMFT specializing in couples counseling and have lived in and around Palo Alto since 1969. I worked in high-tech at Apple, Stanford University, and in Silicon Valley for 15 years before becoming a therapist. My background i...  (More)

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Heart Pounding, Hands Cold and Sweating

Uploaded: Jul 22, 2016
As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I have to take continuing education every licensure period. Despite the fact that I had five years of couple training post graduate school, I am taking Stan Tatkin’s Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT), and I am very excited about it.

I want to share an experience I had during training this past weekend. Maybe it will resonate with you. I volunteered to participate in a demonstration of a PACT strategy for dealing with an angry client. I was the wife, and B. was the husband.

B. immediately started coming on very aggressively. I found that my heart rate started to speed up in response. The more he harangued me, the faster my heart pounded. My hands got cold and sweaty. I put my hands up in front of my heart, trying to energetically and somatically protect myself. That enraged him more. I began to move my chair back, farther and farther. I tried to say that I couldn’t listen/hear him when he was talking to me this way. “You see, you see,” he said to the therapist (one of our trainers), “I can’t say anything to her, I’ve tried everything.”

This went on and on. My fight, flight, or freeze mode was immediately triggered, even though this was “only” a demonstration (that’s what our brains – the amygdale in particular – are wired to do). I was shaking by this time.

I noticed the therapist moving his chair back, farther and farther. Eventually, as B. continued verbally “abusing” me, the therapist got up and walked away, to look at something on his desk. B. didn’t even notice.

I told B., “Our therapist left the room.” That finally stopped him. The therapist came back (he didn’t actually leave the room, but was doing something at his desk). The intervention that followed was so powerful and that it got B. out of anger mode and slowed him down into his feelings of loss and hopelessness.

Then B. was more available and less threatening to me. At that point, a useful conversation was able to occur.

Once the exercise was over, I had to literally “shake it off” as my system had gone into a full adrenal high – ready to run if the cheetah chased me – even though my thinking (neocortex) brain knew it was not real; it was a demonstration. And I said that I would never put up with this shit, with being talked to like that in my life – not anymore. It reminded me of my mom, sadly.

I know some of you get into these loops of being the angry partner and the ready-to-run partner. I know your body goes into overdrive, as mine did. I know how dis-regulating it was to both of us, and to both of you. This cycle forces your bodies to create excessive amounts of cortisol, the stress hormone. And excess cortisol over time becomes toxic to your body and brain.

It took time for my heart to slow down, my hands to warm up. It usually takes women about 20 minutes, and men 20-30 minutes.

Please, if you get into these types of interactions, two things:
1. Don’t talk while you’re calming down. Do talk after 30 minutes.
2. Get help. This is not healthy for you (or your kids if you have them).


Comments

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by rich, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Jul 26, 2016 at 4:46 pm

Chandrama,
Sounds like the behavior of "B" in that "demonstration" was just like a typical boss on a typical day at work.
I wonder if people who cannot control their reactions when having such an issue with their spouse also have trouble dealing with workplace aggression or other public situations where they face aggression?

If a person cannot handle aggression without losing control of themselves then the world is not only a highly stressful place, but it also means such people are vulnerable to anyone who figures this out about them. Once people know you can be shut-down so easily they can use it to manipulate you. If it's your spouse deliberately taking advantage of this, then you've really got a serious problem.

What did the therapist do that converted the behavior of "B"?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Coupon Pitara, a resident of St. Francis Acres,
on Jul 27, 2016 at 1:18 am

Nice Opinion Ms. Chandrama Anderson, I like your article. it's a too informal and helpful for our health.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by smithamit, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Jul 27, 2016 at 3:25 am

wow very informative..
thanks for sharing


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Chandrama Anderson, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jul 27, 2016 at 10:09 am

Chandrama Anderson is a registered user.

Rich, thanks for writing. The therapist got B. out of the content he was going on and on about, and into "process" (I know, a therapist term), i.e., what was really underneath the anger and aggression? With most people I've seen, it's usually hurt, sadness or hopelessness. Once the underlying issues come out and get dealt with, the anger evaporates. The therapist used a very soft and compassionate tone, expressing his concerns that B. would end up alone, and he (the therapist) knew that B. could do this differently. Simple. Powerful.



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